What We Should Be Saying When We Talk About Suicide

A new film shares suicide survivors’ stories

In Lisa Klein’s first year of college, she lost both her father and brother to suicide. For years, she felt like no one understood her grief, her guilt or her shame. So she faced it in silence.

Suicide is hard to talk about. It’s taboo and shrouded by stigma, so Klein, like many affected by suicide, endured her pain alone. She carried it with her through college, then her graduate studies and into her career as a filmmaker. In 2012, Klein and her husband released a documentary they made about people living with bipolar disorder, another mental health condition that afflicted her family. The film was called Of Two Minds, and Klein was proud of her work and the positive impact it made. She thought that she had also managed to confront suicide with this project, as bipolar disorder can cause suicidal thoughts and actions. But when Klein found a community of suicide attempt survivors who were now thriving, she realized she hadn’t even scratched the surface of the topic that had so profoundly and perversely affected her life.

Every person she spoke to had their own unique story and circumstances related to suicide, whether they had attempted it or were survived by it. These people ranged from rich to poor, addicts to professionals. Some were educated, some weren’t. Some were obviously depressed and some were good at hiding it. But no matter how vast their differences were, Klein found one recurring theme in everyone: they all felt disconnected.

“Think of how important connection is for all of us. When someone really listens to you — that’s when you can release. That’s when you’re able to unburden yourself,” Klein said.  

But identifying this thread wasn’t enough. Klein needed to show that making a connection is always possible, no matter how alone someone may feel.

“The more survivors I talked to, the more the film became focused on lived experience and not so much on loss. We’ve all seen the statistics, and everyone knows someone who died by suicide. But when you sit down and talk to someone, and look into their eyes, you’ll see humanity in them, and that’s what moves us. This film brings humanity to suicide,” she said.

In case you haven’t seen the statistics, more than 44,00 people die annually from suicide. In 2014, it was the 2nd leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds, and the 10th leading cause of death in the nation overall. In 2015, 157 people died from suicide in Wyoming, which was nine times higher than the number of deaths by homicide. On average, one person dies by suicide every two days in the Cowboy State.

“Because suicide per capita is so high in Wyoming, there’s a lot of awareness here. We have many different programs doing amazing work to raise awareness. But we need to move our efforts more upstream and toward prevention. This is more about depression and mental health. How do we make ourselves a healthier state? If your leg is broken, you go to the doctor, but we see mental health so differently,” Joanne Theobald, Casper College’s Director of Counseling, said. 

Klein agrees. “Crisis phone and text lines are incredible and do important work to get people off that edge and to a place of safety, but I would also like to work five steps back. Are we really being kind to each other? Are we really listening to each other? Do we really make mental health a priority?” she asked.

They also agreed that one of the best ways to prevent suicide is by breaking the silence that surrounds it, and this can only happen by having open and honest conversations about depression, addiction and mental health. Central Wyoming Counseling Center (CWCC), Casper College and other partnering sponsors are trying to spark that conversation by bringing a screening of Klein’s new documentary, The S Word, to Casper Tuesday, Feb. 13.

“This movie isn’t a PowerPoint presentation on suicide. It’s a human story that connects human beings. And with human beings, there’s humor. This is the funniest film I’ve ever seen about suicide,” Klein said.

Wheeler Concert Hall at Casper College will host the free screening as part of a full night of dialogue on suicide prevention. Representatives from CWCC and other organizations will participate in a community suicide prevention resource fair beginning at 5:00 p.m., the film premieres at 6:00, and a question and answer session with Klein and Craig Miller, a suicide attempt survivor featured in the movie, will immediately follow.

“This movie normalizes suicide, and that’s the most important thing we can do. We need a cultural change in the the way we speak about it. It needs to be a mainstream topic, like we talk about cancer. Humanizing suicide and mental health the way this movie does is how we get there,” Craig said.

And because suicide is so prevailing in Wyoming, Theobald believes that everyone in our state can benefit from this film.

“It’s a message of hope and coping. It acknowledges the reality of suicide — both for those who died from it as well as their families. But it’s about rebuilding your life. How do I keep living everyday, even if I get really low? The focus of this film is about people coming back from that edge. And we’ll all gain more awareness and understanding from it,” she said. For more information on the event, contact Theobald at 307.268.2255. For more information on the film, visit theswordmovie.com.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the best thing you can do is talk about it. Central Wyoming Counseling Center wants to be part of the solution, so call 307.237.9583 to learn more. Together, hope can conquer the silence.

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